Promoting the King of nuts


by Randima Attygalle


True to its name King coconut, this panacea of nature is a beverage fit for a king. Scientifically called Cocos nucifera and thembili for the Lankan, is an ayurvedic antidote to many an ailment, an offering to the Sanga at an alms-giving, a thirst-quencher, an embellishment in cultural pageants, an offering in pooja and the traditional welcome-drink for the tourist arriving in this sun-kissed island.

From the humble wayside thembili seller to the star-class hotel, this king among coconuts moves with equal ease and finesse. Another marvel made possible by the wand of nature, thembili is ours alone, native to this tiny island and a king in its flavour, healing power and dazzling orange texture!


A lucrative export


From January 1st to May 31st this year, we have earned a foreign exchange of Rs. 165 Mn exporting 1.6 million king coconuts. Last year an export of 3.1 million nuts drew an exchange of Rs. 290 Mn. The price of a king coconut in the export market is more than Rs. 130. The figures speak for the prospects of investing in king coconut cultivation. The king coconut cultivation in the country is still an ‘informal’ one, points out Chairman, Coconut Cultivation Board, (CCB) Kapila Yakandawala.

"Although we have the formal coconut cultivation sector, king coconut is still largely confined to home compounds and the necessity to encourage it as a distinct cultivation is vital in the backdrop of the demand the nut has in the global market", he said.

The mounting foreign exchange the nut has been bringing over the past few years from Rs. 131 Mn in 2014 to Rs. 165 Mn by end of May this year, reflects the economic viability of the crop. The demand for king coconut in the nut form is high in the UAE and Middle East while the beverage in bottles and tetra packs is sought by most Asian countries including Japan and those in the Europe including the UK, explains the CCB Chairman.


Promoting at plantation level

"The global demand for it is in natural form with no value-addition as the nutrient value of the beverage is lost when value-addition is done."

Thembili is so interwoven with the Lankan life, so much so the domestic consumption of it is 90% , leaving just 10% for exporting. As the CCB Chairman points out, the demand for the nut in the global market cannot be met at present and the CCB is now promoting it at plantation level. By the end of this year, CCB hopes to promote the cultivation of 20,000 king coconut plants and expand the cultivation to 50,000 plants by 2017. The CCB also provides high quality seedlings for cultivators and they are already available for distribution through regional offices of the CCB for the Maha Season.

Cultivating king coconut at plantation level is a win-win situation for both the cultivators and companies exporting them, observes the General Manager, CCB, K.D.L. Dharmasiri. "At present there are only about 15 such companies and promoting this crop could also bring in many employment opportunities," says the GM, who adds that unlike coconut, pest attacks on king coconut are less. "It also matures in a lesser period than coconut. While it takes five years for a coconut tree to mature and bear nuts, king coconut takes only three years and yields more nuts, about 120 nuts per tree."

"A thembili a day could keep many ailments at bay," believes the immediate former Director, Coconut Research Institute (CRI), Dr. Jayantha Gunathilaka who urges family and friends to take this healing beverage when visiting patients at hospital. "The human body knows the healing properties of it," reflects the researcher who illustrates the point with an interesting anecdote from history. "During the time of Second World War, thembili had been used locally as saline to treat the wounds of soldiers."

It is also a natural detoxifier purifying the blood stream. Thembili is also a rich source of potassium, sodium and calcium. Dr. Gunathilaka also notes that Kalutara and Avissawella have some of the best soil properties in the wet zone for a bountiful harvest of thembili. At the same time he bemoans that as a country we still have not realized the optimum value of this nature’s gift which is much sought after by international buyers. He also urges for more national commitment in king coconut research, especially on seedlings which could yield a better crop.



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